In the wake of COVID 19, many across the globe have resorted to the use of herbal preparations in a bid to building stronger immunity and improve general health. Such herbs that have been combined diversely include Cinnamomum zeylanicum (Cinnamon), Azadirachta indica (Neem), Carica papaya (Pawpaw), Xylopia ethiopica (Hwenteaa), Artemissia annua (Sweet wormwood), Zingiber officinale (Ginger), Hibiscus sabdariffa (Soobolo), Allium sativum (Garlic) etc.
Much as we attest to the health benefits of herbs generally, it is worthy of note that herbs may contain several different active phytochemicals with varying physiological effects and hence should be sourced and prepared through standard processes, and taken in required doses in order to be useful to the body. Generally, herbs may be safe yet they could pose varying degrees of consequences if not rationally sourced, processed or taken. For instance, aflatoxins (produced by foreign whitish patches found especially on cassava and other leaves) if consumed, may contribute to mutagenic, carcinogenic, teratogenic, and immunosuppressive health effects in the body. The adverse effect ranges from acute hepatic toxicity to chronic diseases such as liver cancer, haemorrhages, oedema, and even immediate death. This is not the effect of the plant but rather the toxic foreign adulterant which should have been avoided while picking the crude plant material, or during preparation.
It is advised that herbal medical care should be sought from qualified registered professionals rather than resorting to self home made remedies.
In the event of preparing home made herbal remedies however, the following precautionary measures should be observed.
- Look out for and avoid:
- whitish powdery patches(which produce aflatoxins) especially on leaves.
- Droplets of animal fecal matter and tiny insects
- Other adulterants
- Do not fetch plant materials from:
- places where there is a lot of vehicular movements and/or Industrial areas as toxic carbon monoxide fumes in the atmosphere may be absorbed by nearby plants.
- places close to untreated human excreta deposits or refuse damp sites.
- Mining sites
- Wash fresh plant materials thoroughly and remove any adulterants before use. You may use concentrated salt solution or vinegar.
- Accurate identification is key. Plants of same genus could have very close resemblance - be sure which species you need.
- Generally, fruits and vegetables boost immunity. Eat a variety of healthy fruits everyday, especially citrus fruits (Oranges,tangerines,mandarins, etc). Avoid fruits or vegetables that are split open or broken into.
Do not rely on every herbal combinations shared on social media. Some could be detrimental to your health. Consult the nearest Medical Herbalist in a government hospital or private health facility near you.
Avoid excessive sugary foods and self medication as they could affect your immunity negatively.
Exercise regularly and ensure to have adequate rest.
Above all, let us all observe the preventive measures such as Social distancing,use of face masks, frequent washing of hands with soap under running water and use of alcohol base hand sanitizer.
Dr Anthony Mensah (MH)